Yesterday I shared a tiny bit about the Do What You Love retreat, but honestly I was a bit at a loss for words. It was easier to let the photographs do the talking. How can you possibly explain the feeling of being in an environment where art and creativity, positive encouragement and infinite possibility are the norm for four days?
Today I thought I would share just a peek at some of what I experienced by showing the evolution of one of the paintings I created in Flora Bowley‘s class. Through showing you how it progressed through the three days and what I learned, I hope to give you an idea of what it was like. I created three paintings over the three days, and I’ll share the other two (one of which is pictured above, in progress) in Friday’s blog post. (I have to save something for Paint Party Friday, don’t I?)
The first day we quickly learned to get past the “blank canvas” syndrome. Flora’s painting technique starts with a lot of mark making. Using foam brushes, small paintbrushes, found objects, fingers, rags and a spray bottle we learned all sorts of ways to make marks on the canvas. We painted with our eyes closed, danced to the music, stopped for yoga stretches, just worked on releasing the tensions and expectations and using our whole body to paint.
One of the more interesting things we did early in the first day is paint on each other’s canvases. We rotated around the room, moving from canvas to canvas and Flora would tell us what kind of mark to make. We would practice that mark on the canvas we were at and then rotate to the next canvas to practice a new type of mark. The idea was to keep us from attaching too much to any one thing we painted. It definitely worked! It was very fun to see what our canvas looked like when we got back to it.
We spent the first day building up multiple layers of two of our 30×30″ canvases, painting in all of the colors of the rainbow. The idea was to give us lots of possibilities and directions the painting could go in terms of color, shape, subject. Here is the painting at the end of the first day:
Kind of wild, isn’t it? I definitely had lots of directions to go with this! I couldn’t really see how this was going to evolve into anything “beautiful” at this point. This was the canvas that everyone painted on, so it’s fun to know that the whole class had a part in creating this painting.
Here is the image again, rotated 90 degrees, in the orientation of the painting for later comparison. It’s interesting how you see different things when you rotate the painting, isn’t it? We did a lot of that, working from different directions.
We started the second day by writing a gratitude list and then sketching from nature. Flora encouraged us to look at both the broad vista and the close up for our sketches. We were in a beautiful place to do this! The Yorkshire countryside rolled along in front of us and the trees and flowers were in their spring bloom. She then showed us how she started to use what was working in the layers she had created, plus her sketches from the morning, to bring more out of the painting. She encouraged us to make a bold move, commit to something, not be afraid to cover up what was already there. You have to do this to make room for the new, great things that will come along.
My “bold move” to start at the beginning of the second day was to paint the fern across the middle of the painting and then started to fill in around that. The other leaves and circles started to pop out and emerge, so I went with that. One of Flora’s mantras was to “go with what’s working.” Here is the painting at the end of the second day:
It is unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It is big, it is bold, it is unplanned. This isn’t necessarily my favorite of the three paintings, but this is definitely the one that I learned the most on. I struggled with things and broke through them. Flora’s experience, repeated many times to us, is that the paintings she struggles the most with are often her best work. She encouraged us to keep pushing through those barriers we found. To commit to bold moves. Look to nature for inspiration. Move our bodies. Go with what’s working. Reminding us that we made the marks that were there, we could always make them again.
It was a very emotional experience for many of us. It’s amazing how painting can be so connected to our core self, how much we can each individually struggle and the emotions it brings up. How we can attach ourselves to certain outcomes. How our inner voices can just destroy our confidence. There are so many parallels between painting, or any art, with our life. I learn this over and over again as I continue explore art and creativity. I have learned more about myself through art in the last couple of years than through anything else, ever.
Thank you to Flora, for being such a wonderful teacher. She gave us the tools and lessons but let us find the ways to make our painting an expression of our self. Thank you to my classmates, who provided all sorts of positive encouragement and support for each other along this journey, which was difficult at times. Thank you to Beth, for creating such a wonderful environment at the retreat that we could learn these amazing things about art and life. And thank you to art and creativity, for being the thing that makes me whole.